Audition for the Next Season of “Top Chef”

April 17, 2008

If you think you have the cooking chops to make the cut, here’s your chance to audition for season five of Bravo TV’s popular, “Top Chef” show.

An open call will be held in the Bay Area, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 21, at Postrio restaurant, 545 Post St. in San Francisco. Both self-taught and professionally trained cooks are eligible. Just download an application here.

Hope to see you in the next ”Quick Fire” challenge.

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Pig Out on Pig

April 17, 2008

It will be pig and more pig at Sent Sovi’s fifth anniversary Open House, noon to 3 p.m. April 20. Chef-proprieter Josiah Slone will be roasting a whole pig in a Caja China box. It’s a sight to see, and a treat for the taste buds with its ultra crisp skin and super moist flesh.

Slone will be pouring his special sangria, too. Best yet, it’s all free — his generous way of saying thanks to all who have supported him and his Saratoga restaurant.

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Dining That Takes A Bite Out of Global Warming

April 16, 2008

Yahoo!  , Oracle, eBay, and Cisco Systems have all left giant imprints on the tech world.

But on April 22, these monster corporations will take deliberate steps to shrink their footprints — their carbon ones, to be precise. On that day, which is appropriately enough Earth Day, chefs at these corporate cafes and others around the country that are all overseen by Bon Appetit Management Company, will serve low carbon meals to educate diners about the role food plays in climate change.

Of all the activities done by humans, studies have found that food and all the energy it takes to make it is one of the largest contributors to global warming. One third of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by food production, processing, transportation, packaging, preparation, and waste.

All in all, 400 cafes in 28 states will take up the challenge. They include those at DreamWorks, the de Young Museum, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

That translates into reducing the use of imported foods such as rice and bananas. It also means cutting out beef, and even much of the cheese normally served. After all, cows (whether raised for dairy or for meat) emit a huge amount of — errr — methane gas, to be polite.  And that gas is said to be even more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat against the Earth.

 On “Low Carbon Diet Day,” diners will see more turkey burgers, portobello burgers, pizza with white bean sauce, salad bars stocked with veggies only from North America, and agua frescas made from regionally grown fruit (tropical ones are definite no-no’s). Every food station in each cafe will have to offer one low-carbon meal option and post a sign explaining the principles involved.

If you can’t make it to one of the public cafes that day or aren’t lucky enough to get a coveted invitation to dine at one of the private Silicon Valley tech cafeterias, there’s another way you can learn more about the carbon footprint of food. Just click here to find a calculator that will compute the total carbon emissions of your average breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You might never look at that plate of bacon and eggs quite the same way again.

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Trevese Restaurant Garners Green Glory

April 15, 2008

The Green Restaurant Association has bestowed a “Certified Green Restaurant” badge of distinction on Trevese in downtown Los Gatos. It is the first restaurant in the Bay Area to be so honored.

Housed in a landmark Queen Anne-style Victorian, the restaurant features locally grown, sustainable, and organic ingredients. It serves shade-grown and organic coffee.

Additionally, the restaurant recycles all glass, cardboard, grease, metal, plastic and paper. Food waste is composted. Low-flow faucet aerators have been installed throughout the building to reduce water consumption and energy use. Low-flow spray valves in the kitchen save upwards of 135,000 gallons of water a year alone. The bathrooms are stocked with 100 percent recycled and chlorine-free tissue, as well as recycled multi-fold towels.

Trevese plans to implement more environmental steps each year, according to Chef-Owner Michael Miller.

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Fried Chicken Nights at Ad Hoc Now Every Week

April 14, 2008

Watercress and radish salad 

When diners time their reservations specifically for when fried chicken makes an appearance on the menu, and when lines snake out the door midweek as late as 9 p.m. in sleepy Yountville just for a taste of it, you know that’s got to be some darn good bird.

Since Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc opened a year and a half ago, the storied fried chicken has been a hands-down favorite. After all, who can resist chicken brined for 10 hours in honey, salt and lemon, then dipped in buttermilk, flour, and cornmeal, before being fried crisp and golden? The fried chicken used to be available only every other Monday night at the casual restaurant, where there is only one set menu each day and everything is served family-style. Now, due to overwhelming demand, Ad Hoc has declared every other Monday and every other Wednesday, of alternating weeks, to be fried chicken nights. If that’s a bit confusing, bear with us: It means fried chicken is on the menu this coming Wednesday night, and then the following week on Monday night, April 21. Then it reappears on the menu again on Wednesday, April 30. Whew, got that?

For fans of the melt-in-your-mouth short ribs (cooked “sous vide” or in a sealed pouch in a temperature controlled water bath, for 48 hours), you’ll still have to take your chances on when those beauties pop up on the menu because it all depends on when the meat is available.

As you can tell, none of these photos are of fried chicken, alas. My hubby, aka Meat Boy, and I missed fried chicken by mere hours. You see, we went to Ad Hoc, 6476 Washington Ave., to try its new Sunday brunch. Like dinner ($48 for four courses), brunch also is one set menu each Sunday (three courses for $38). And fried chicken and sourdough waffles (oh my, oh my!) were supposed to be that Sunday brunch’s main attraction. That is, until the restaurant decided to go with fried chicken only at night. Sigh.

Even so, we had a marvelous brunch. It started out with the lovely salad you see above with watercress, and Easter egg, watermelon, and black and white radishes, all tossed in a light lemon chive vinaigrette with toasted pine nuts. The stellar veggies were picked from the “farm” across the street from the French Laundry. Alongside the dish were lady-like cucumber mint finger-sandwiches.

Steak 'n' Eggs

Next came “steak ‘n’ eggs,” beef sirloin tips alongside Clark Farm’s hen eggs cooked like an omelet and then cut into pappardelle-like ribbons. Alongside was a colorful, flavorful medley of fava beans, roasted red peppers, and super crispy and creamy Yukon Gold potato hash.

The finale was D’Anjou pears poached in white wine and dolloped with vanilla whipped cream; and served with buttery shortbread cookies.

 We enjoyed brunch on one of those really perfect, sunny days in Yountville, where locals and tourists were strolling about. And where a chef or two could be spotted, including a sporty Richard Reddington of Redd, the one-Michelin-star restaurant just up the block. Reddington cruised by on his bicycle, stopping briefly to check his pulse rate just outside of Ad Hoc.

Possibly next year, look for Keller’s Burgers and Half Bottles (as in wine) to open in the same building. The burger joint will share the same kitchen as Ad Hoc, and a wall will be pushed out from the building to accomodate the 19-seat, largely take-out adjunct eatery.

 Meantime, you can enjoy dinner (seven days a week) or Sunday brunch at Ad Hoc by calling (707) 944-2487. You can learn what the next night’s dinner menu is by listening to the recording after 10:30 p.m., and by looking on the restaurant’s Web site.

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The Ultimate Cheesy Time

April 11, 2008

If you’re near any Whole Foods store in Northern California at noon April 12, you’ll want to head inside to enjoy a truly cheesy experience.

That is when the “cracking open” ceremonies will begin, as cheesemongers in each store worldwide will simultaneously demonstrate the traditional method of breaking into hefty 24-month-aged wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano using five different knives from Italy.

Yes, you read that correctly. The cheese-breaking ceremony will take place at every Whole Foods store in the world (that would be 270 of them). The process of cutting up the 85-pound wheels of cheese will take about half an hour. If you think that might be some sort of record in the making, well, Whole Foods does, too. The company will be attempting to set a Guiness World Record with the feat.

Parmigiano Reggiano has been made for centuries in one area of Northern Italy that includes Reggio Emilia, Parma, Modena and portions of Bologna and Mantua. These regions are the only ones with the ideal conditions to produce this cheese.

After one year of aging, each artisan-crafted wheel that passes the test is branded with a unique proof of authenticity — an oval certification mark — and left to finish aging. That seal guarantees that the cheese was made under the regulations of the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano and conforms to its stringent standards of quality.

Each year, Whole Foods cheese buyers visit the region to hand select wheels for the stores. Tastings will be available at the store on April 12. Customers also can take home information on wine pairings and recipes for dishes that really highlight the cheese.

For a sneak preview of the cheese carving show, click here.

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Take Five With Chef Christopher Kostow of the Restaurant at Meadowood

April 11, 2008

Chef Christopher Kostow at the burners at the Restaurant at Meadowood

You can’t blame Christopher Kostow, 31, for feeling giddy like a kid in a candy store. In his two years as head chef at Chez TJ in Mountain View, he steered the small, venerable restaurant from zero to one to two Michelin stars.

 Now, having left that establishment in February, he’s landed on a much showier stage – head of the already two-Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood, the bucolic and breathtaking 250-acre resort in St. Helena.

Every morning, spring onions, baby carrots, fuschia-hued radishes, and other fresh-as-can-be veggies are plucked from the resort’s 50-yard by 30-yard garden for that evening’s elegant dishes. You’ll spot them in such creative fare as lobster with sweetbread ravioli garnished with hedgehog mushrooms, turnips, and slivers of black truffle.

Assisted by a polished waitstaff and a resident Master Sommelier, Kostow’s cooking is more refined than at Chez TJ, with flavors that really pop and linger. Some of his loyal customers from Chez TJ have driven up and back in one day just to get their fix. And so have big-name celebrities from the music and sports worlds.

I sat down with Kostow to find out how life has changed for the former philosophy major, who grew up outside of Chicago, and went on to work with Michelin-starred chefs in France and to be sous chef at Campton Place in San Francisco.

Q:  How is it different cooking here?

A:  The kitchen here is four times the size of the one at Chez TJ. It’s twice as many cooks (eight) doing the same amount of covers — about 50 a night. I brought with me five staff members from Chez TJ, which made things monumentally easier.

    There are a lot more inherent challenges, too. The diners here are more sophisticated, and not necessarily going to order the chef’s tasting menu. But that has a lot to do with the economy now, too.

Q: Do you feel a lot of pressure coming in as a two-star Michelin chef to take over a restaurant that already had two stars under its previous chef?

A: I am looking at it aggressively. I keep telling myself, “Get two stars! Get two stars!’’

    We have great service here, and a great wine guy. All the pieces are in place. It’s just up to me to make it happen.

Q: After you received two stars at Chez TJ, did the offers pour in?

A: There were other offers, including some big ones in the City (San Francisco). But it needed to be a step up, with more exposure. When I looked at the management team here, it was a no-brainer to accept this one.

Q: Do you think you’ve become a better chef here?

A: I think my cooking has gotten more refined, more focused. Chez TJ was my first head chef job. I have a repertoire now. It’s not like when you’re still a young chef and every new dish is a mountain to climb.

Q:  Is there a dish on the current menu that you’re particularly proud of?

A: The toro with Osetra caviar, crème fraiche, and spring onions. It’s a complicated dish that looks simple. It’s a luxurious dish that doesn’t beat you over the head with technique. We cold-smoke the toro, freeze it, then cut it very thinly with a slicer. It thaws the moment it hits the plate.

Crispy confit of suckling pig

Q: The crispy confit of suckling pig is just astounding with its melt-in-your-mouth flesh and cracklingly crisp skin. I could have easily eaten five orders of it, and never been happier.

A: Everyone loves that dish. We get whole pigs in. We cure the legs and shoulders — confit-style. We take the meat off, we take the skin off and clean it. We press it so the natural gelatin holds it together. It’s a Campton Place dish.

Q: So life is treating you well here?

A: I’ve cooked for more chefs, vintners, and celebrities in two months here than in two years at my other restaurant.  Read the rest of this entry »